Trade Advice Document
Trading advice from several sources is available to help businesses comply with the law.
The Health and Safety Executive website has advice on:
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute provides advice on a number of topics:
Colours in food
In the guide
- Foods the Regulations apply to
- Compulsory warnings
- Avoiding selling food with excess or non-permitted colours
- Other additives
- Further information
If you sell or supply food you need to give certain information about colours in foodstuffs
This guidance is for England
The Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (England) Regulations 2013 allow only certain colours to be used in food, restrict the use of some colours and set maximum levels for others, particularly in relation to food sold in restaurants and as takeaway meals.
Traders should obtain written confirmation from their supplier that a product complies with the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (England) Regulations 2013. The Regulations list some specific colours that are restricted in sauces, pickles, seasonings, etc. The use of these colours in food is controlled because excessive consumption has been linked to allergic reactions and sickness.
Foods the Regulations apply to
The Regulations apply to all foods but make specific requirements for certain foods, such as rice, tea, coffee, fresh vegetables, meat, fish and shellfish, which cannot be directly coloured with artificial colours. Rice is only able to contain colour introduced by ingredients added to it, such as seasonings.
The use of these colours in food is controlled because excessive consumption has been linked to allergic reactions and sickness.
Of particular relevance to restaurant and takeaway meals are the additives used that relate to sauces, seasonings (for example - curry powder, tandoori), pickles, relishes, chutney, piccalilli, etc. In these cases, only a combined total of 500 mg/kg of the following permitted colours is allowed:
- E 100 - Curcumin
- E 102 - Tartrazine
- E 120 - Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmine
- E 122 - Azorubine, Carmoisine
- E 129 - Allura Red AC
- E 131 - Patent Blue V
- E 132 - Indigotine, Indigo carmine
- E 133 - Brilliant Blue FCF
- E 142 - Green S
- E 151 - Brilliant Black BN, Black PN
- E 155 - Brown HT
- E 160d - Lycopene (ML = 50 mg/kg , excluding tomato-based sauces)
- E 160e - Beta-apo-8'-carontenal (C30)
- E 160f - Ethyl ester of beta-apo-8'-carotenic acid (C30) (there is no reference to this on the additives database)
- E 161b - Lutein
The following colours are even more strictly regulated, with maximum limits in sauces as follows:
- E 160d - Lycopene: 50 mg/kg and not permitted in tomato-based sauces
- E 104 - Quinoline Yellow: 20 mg/kg and not permitted in tomato-based sauces
- E 110 - Sunset Yellow FCF / Orange Yellow S: 30 mg/kg, pickles and piccalilli onll
The maximum permitted amounts of these three colours is different in other types of food - for example, Quinoline Yellow is the only one of the three that is allowed to be used in seasonings, with a limit of 10 mg/kg.
For full details of which additives can be used, in which foods and in what amounts, please visit the European Food Additives database (the easiest way to search is to click on 'categories' from the top right toolbar and select the appropriate category from the drop-down list).
Compulsory warnings regarding the effect of colours on children are required on the labels of prepacked foods. These requirements also apply to edible ices, flour confectionery (sweet pastries, cakes and similar baked goods) and other food items sold loose. The warning '[name or E number of the colour(s)]: may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children' is required for prepacked food containing any of the following colours:
- E 102 - Tartrazine
- E 104 - Quinoline Yellow
- E 110 - Sunset Yellow FCF
- E 122 - Carmoisine
- E 124 - Ponceau 4R
- E 129 - Allura Red
There is no requirement for foods sold at catering establishments to state these warnings on the menu.
Avoiding selling food with excess or non-permitted colours
In each case you should obtain written confirmation from your supplier that a product complies with the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (England) Regulations 2013.
Always ensure that you and any employees follow the instructions supplied with the seasoning / colour. If there are no instructions, or if the instructions are not clear, ask your supplier for further details in writing. Do not guess or rely on information given only verbally.
If you import the seasoning / colour directly, or manufacture it yourself, you should seek more detailed advice from your local trading standards service.
There are European Regulations that control the use of all additives used in food*. It is important that you always obtain written confirmation from your suppliers that their products conform to the relevant requirements. If you import the products directly, ask your local trading standards service for further advice. You must always ensure that any instructions for use are followed and, if in doubt, check. Do not guess.
[*EU Regulation (EC) No 1332/2008 on food enzymes; EU Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives; and EU Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods.]
Detailed guidance on food additives legislation, including colours, is available on the Food Standards Agency website.
It is a criminal offence to sell food that does not comply with the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (England) Regulations 2013. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.
- Food Safety Act 1990
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1332/2008 on food enzymes
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods
- Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (England) Regulations 2013
Last reviewed / updated: May 2018
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
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